Arriving in Nong Khai, Thailand

So I arrived in Thailand around the middle of March, 2010. I spent several days each in Bangkok and Hua Hin, which is about three hours — by bus at highway speeds — south and a little west of Bangkok, on the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Thailand.

I took a grand total of two pictures during that time.

I know what you are thinking, but there are two reasons behind my lack of photographs. One, I was busy doing touristy things and whatnot, and I didn’t think the world needed yet another shot of a reclining Buddha or a wat. Two, when I do have a camera in tow, I tend to always think in terms of making art, as opposed to snapshots (see no. one), selfies and the like, as I’ve observed many times before.

This not say that I’m any great shakes when it comes to photography, however. But Bangkok and Hua Hin are nothing if not touristy. So …

Thai hair gel in Bangkok 2010-03-14 … It took me a moment to figure out that Hard Freeze Hair Wax was actually just hair gel. Find any one over the age of eighteen without product in their hair of some kind in and around Bangkok on a Saturday night. It’s impossible. Time was I had product in my hair too, but that was twenty-some years ago — and likely Elmer’s Glue.

Ronald greets you with a wai in Hua Hin 2010-03-25Even Ronald McDonald offers a you a wai when in Hua Hin — a traditional greeting common throughout Thailand. There must be a million of these on the Internet, but this is the first I heard of it. And that cone of ice cream is nine baht — about a quarter in U.S. dollars.

Now onto Nong Khai. It is the difference between night and day, in many significant ways, between Bangkok, situated on the Gulf, and Nong Khai, Thailand some 389 miles to the northeast. On the one hand it’s urban vs. rural, but it’s much more than that. Nong Khai is a center of Isaan culture, which differs considerably from the culture of Bangkok and surrounding environs, which is what most people think of when they think of Thailand.

Looking east along the Mekong River at Sadet Market in Nong Khai.
Looking east along the Mekong River at Sadet Market in Nong Khai.
Looking west along the Mekong River at Sadet Market.
Looking west along the Mekong River at Sadet Market.

Look at this picture full size and squint; you can just make out the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge in the hazy distance. Across the river and a short tuk-tuk ride away — about 15 miles upriver from the bridge — is Vientiane, capitol of Laos.

Some pigeons in the park outside Sadet Market.
Some pigeons in the park outside Sadet Market.

Notice the naga designs incorporated into the fence in the above picture? I didn’t either, at first, having just arrived in town near the end of March. But soon I realized naga, or giant serpent-like beings, are everywhere in Nong Khai. Said to be the mythical guardians of the Mekong, not to mention every temple and shrine in the area, a six-story, a seven-headed naga stands guard over Sala Keoku.

The next few shots are of Isara Foundation and its volunteers in action at an English camp. On the left one of the adults you see in first picture is Kirk Gillock, Isara’s founder. Isara operated for more that ten years, running a free English language and computer center in Nong Khai, amongst other community service efforts. One of the best things about volunteering for Isara? It was indeed free to volunteer.kids and volunteers at Isara Foundationkids and volunteers at Isara Foundationkids and volunteers at Isara FoundationThe next batch of snapshots are of the kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundation, who had come for the afternoon to visit and play with said kids, me included. This was April 10, 2010.kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House kids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara Foundationkids at Sarnelli House and the volunteers of Isara FoundationThis last batch, taken in mid-April, were taken at Ming’s parents’ house. Ming was Kirk’s girlfriend at the time; her parents were watching a little boy — why, I’m afraid I forget — and the current Isara crew came to celebrate his birthday. In the second photo Ming is to the boy’s left; the other two children I believe belong to Ming’s sister.Kirk ans a little Thai friend Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. Isara crew and friends celebrate a birthday. A Thai family at home.Notice there is no carpet? That’s a Western concept; a typical Thai household doesn’t have one, nor do the Vietnamese and I would guess that is typical throughout Southeast Asia at least (given how warm it is year ’round in most places). Carpets equal dirt magnets, as more than one Thai person pointed out to me. Too true, that.

Finally, here is a banana tree growing on the farm that Ming’s parents own; I had never seen one of course and was duly fascinated.banana tree Nong Khai, Thailand banana tree Nong Khai, Thailand Hard to believe that six months before then, in 2009, I was out of a job with no immediate prospects while my eldest brother and my sister argued incessantly over Dad’s estate, he having died at the end of 2008. Me, I argued incessantly with both of them — at first — that this was indeed pointless, as Dad had already spelled it out in stone, essentially, that everything was to be divided four ways between us kids; Mom, of course, died at the end of 2001.

Furthermore, Dad had told us — well, me at least; I won’t speak for the others — that he wanted us to all get along in the aftermath of his death. He bought it up several times in the year before he died, even though at age 81 his health was stable, as far as anyone knew.

So, with both Mom and Dad gone, no job and no immediate career prospects, at age 41 I packed up, sold out and headed for Viet Nam with no immediate plans to return. Why and how Viet Nam is a story for some other time and some other batch of photos, however.

I started this because, having just found out about Isara having closed its doors last month (which actually happened back in July of 2014 no less), I realized there was little on this site to  document my time there. It was only a month, but I consider it a pivotal moment among my more that four years abroad; out of all the places I spent time in between Viet Nam and Thailand, it is the place I remember most fondly — and not with the rose-colored glasses with which I began my teaching career, but the clarity of hindsight. Isara was a big part of that.

More to come. …

Postscript: Sorry, but I’m shit with names, and I’ve forgotten the names of all the volunteers in the pictures. Mai pen rai. Also, these were taken with a Nokia 5800, itself already a couple years old in 2010; they are a bit craptacular, I’m afraid. I do have some shots taken with my old Canon Rebel to come.

Furthermore, some of these pictures have appeared before …

Of Politics, Facebook and Nong Khai, Thailand

I just wanted to weigh in on three seemingly unrelated topics, Facebook, politics and Nong Khai, Thailand — seemingly unrelated topics because they are, in point of fact, unrelated. So why include them in one post? I’m lazy.

First off, let me clarify my point on last week’s post. While l don’t care about politics anymore, I’m not saying anyone else should or should not care about it, either specifically or in general. That’s strictly up to you and you alone and no one else.

Same goes for Facebook and social networking. If you like it/care about it, more power to you; enjoy it with my blessing, for what little that is worth.

What prompted this was a young friend of mine with whom I was making small talk the other day. She was asking whom I might vote for in the upcoming election, Hillary or Trump — she who has a law degree and used to work for Hillary Clinton in the State Department. I hesitated for a moment, then explained briefly how and why that it ultimately matters not.

She immediately launched into the fact that Trump is a horrible racist, misogynist, etc., etc. — all of which I readily agreed to — and stated that if I were a woman, I might feel the same way — to which I also readily agreed.

But I’m not. If things had happened differently, I would be a different person, yes. But I’m the person I am now, for good or ill, and things happened the way that they did. This person just doesn’t give a damn about most things anymore — but that doesn’t mean that no one else should or should not care; it is up to you.

Of course she got me to thinking, though. Trump is an awful human being, or at least he presents himself that way in the media; in the end, who can really know? But I digress. Hillary is considerably less evil, but still, in the end, a politician, and all of them are indeed crooks (thanks, Dad); it’s just a matter of degree.

So, in the end, if I do vote — and it’s a small thing really, even for one who doesn’t care — I’ll probably vote my conscience. Or at least come as close to it as I possibly can. It’s still a political party — i.e., crooks — but the Green Party is in the ballpark when it comes to most issues that I used to care about.

But Don’t You Care About Nong Khai?

I was getting to that. My post a week or two ago about Kirk, Isara and Nong Khai has me feeling nostalgic for days gone by. So I’m going to start posting photos of my times spent in Asia. Some these are reposts; many are new. But even more than that, I think now that enough time has past that I can post about it without a jaundiced eye — or a rose-colored one.

Plus, I finally organized my photo archives, so I can find anything I want quickly. I’ve also got a new tool to work with, now that I more or less said goodbye to Windows and live with Linux: Darktable.

So yeah, I’m going to start of with Nong Khai, Thailand. Here’s one:

Sarnelli House, Nong Khai, Thailand. Jeff Chappell 04-10-2010While volunteering at Isara in Nong Khai, we had taken an afternoon to visit the kids at Sarnelli House: the wonderful, sweet, playful kids at Sarnelli House; these two are just two among many.

More to follow.

A Belated So Long and Farewell, Isara Foundation

May the plastic bottle boat keep cruising …

It’s been months since I updated; you’d think a guy who wasn’t working would have more time. I do have a project I’m working on, and I have a ton of photos to edit and post.

But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m here because I just learned that Isara had closed its doors. In 2014. … ?!

Isara Foundation, you may recall, was the non-profit I volunteered for back in March of 2010 for a month. I was checking some links and doing some housekeeping on my professional site today, and came across a blurb about Isara, and decided to look them up; it had obviously been a while since I had visited their site.

They closed in July 2014; I came home after my hemorrhagic stroke is August of that year. If I had only known. Granted, I had other things on my mind, just then, but had I known, I would have made the trip up north to say goodbye one last time.

I’m not sure what happened, and I’ll keep my conjectures to myself. A few pages are still up at the site, and Isara sill has a Facebook page. Kirk, the founder of Isara, still updates occasionally over there; the last update was in April for Songkran, the Thai New Year.  As he put it on Facebook in June of that year, Isara was due for a long-term brake:

As some of you already know, this month Isara will be ending our volunteer program. It was a difficult decision to make but necessary in order to prepare for a long-term break in July. I am so proud of the work our 560+ volunteers have done in the last 7 years. Not only did you make a difference to thousands of Thai students but you also made a big difference in my life as well. I will be forever grateful to our volunteers and sponsors, who helped prove that it is possible to have a successful volunteer program that is 100% free. … Thank you for the great lessons and joyous laughter you brought to Isara. Y’all rock!!

I am proud to say I was one of the 560 plus volunteers, and while I taught for a month and looked after their computers, I got so much more than that. After having lived there almost three years total, my feelings about Thailand and teaching are … complex. There is a reason I left — reasons in the plural — only to come back again … and again.

Even now, I get nostalgic sometimes.

But I have nothing but great things to say about Isara, its students, the people of Nong Khai, my fellow volunteers and especially Kirk Gillock; he’s one of the good ones.

Kirk and company in Nong Khai

I spent the last hour or so looking back through my photos; it’s been a trip down memory lane and a damn good one. Here is Kirk on the left; this picture was taken here at girlfriend Ming’s (also pictured) parents’ house. They were celebrating the birthday of the boy in the middle.

Nong Khai Paradise

And here is the space behind Isara’s learning center in Nong Khai (in 2010, anyway) in HDR. A tiny bit of paradise, that.

There are more pictures here. And more at Flickr.

Whatever Kirk gets up to in the future I wish him the best; it looks like a plastic bottle boat is his current thing.

Photo a Day: Babe in Arms

Babe in Arms Wants Those Pigeons!

a babe in arms on the beach at Pattaya, Thailand

Was cleaning up my hard drive and came across this photo that I meant to use as a Photo a Day entrant, and a perusal through previous posts reveals I had not. So here it is.

I was wandering along the beach front in Pattaya one afternoon, just snapping a few random pics, mostly of soi dogs. When I got to the end of the beach/Beach Road, I happened to spy this young lady and little dude/dudette; the little one was determined to get at the pigeons that frequent the place. Unfortunately the shots where the pigeons are in the frame the babe in arms is out of focus.

I have GOT to remember to change the auto-focus settings when shooting people dammit.

So rather than have an out of focus baby, I opted for a tight crop — one in which the pigeons weren’t in the frame anyway. Yeah, the little dude/dudette had been racing after the pigeons as I strolled up, and even after mom picked him up, he was still struggling to get at ’em.

Edit: Originally, the crop I chose was the one below, because I wanted to focus the image on the baby. But cropping out the mom seemed like a distraction; looking at the photo, once I had taken in the child, I couldn’t help but think what the mom’s face looked like. So edited it again, and kept Mom in the frame.

Much better. Mom has an interesting face; she’s obviously a bit distressed that her kid has been chasing after dirty ole’ pigeons.

a babe in arms on the beach at Pattaya, Thailand